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British Industrial History

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George Lennox Watson

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George Lennox Watson (1851-1904) of G. L. Watson and Co was a Scottish naval architect.

1851 Born in Glasgow, son of Thomas Lennox Watson, a doctor at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, and grandson of Timothy Burstall

As a young boy in the late 1850s Watson often spent holidays at Inverkip on the Firth of Clyde, where through his friendship the local skipper William Mackie he developed his passion for yachts and resolved to make naval architecture his living. At the age of 16 Watson became an apprentice draughtsman at the shipyard of Robert Napier and Sons in Glasgow.

During his training at Napier’s yard Watson was at the early stages of using theories of hydrodynamics as influences in yacht design.

1873 After practising at A. and J. Inglis, Shipbuilders, Watson set out to found the world's first yacht design office dedicated to small craft. His first design, Peg Woffington featured an unorthodox reverse bow which undoubtedly drew attention to the young designer. Successes followed with yachts such as Vril and Verve which were built for a growing client base of wealthy Clyde industrialists. Notable examples include the Coats family of Paisley and the Allan Brothers of the famous Scotch-Canadian shipping line.

Watson's successes on the proving ground of the Clyde soon attracted larger commissions from more high profile clients such as the Vanderbilt family, Earl of Dunraven, Sir Thomas Lipton, the Rothschild family, Charles Lindsay Orr-Ewing, Whitaker Wright and Wilhelm II, German Emperor. Commissioning amongst others, four America's Cup challengers and the largest sailing schooner of its time, Rainbow.

Amongst his work in yacht designs Watson designed extensively for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) with his boats becoming renowned for their seaworthiness and durable qualities.

In 1887 Watson became chief consulting Naval Architect to the RNLI, a position which G. L. Watson and Co directors would fulfil through to the late 1960s.

Watson designed 432 yachts, lifeboats and other vessels during his 32-year career, an output which averages one new build launched every 3.5 weeks. Of those he designed the following are particularly noteworthy.

1902 In the early years of his adult life Watson was devoted his company as well as close friends and family. He had little time for courting and it was not until his later years that Watson courted and married Ms Lovibond of Putney, London. Their wedding was described as "a gathering of the most fashionable people in society".

1904 November 12th. Died only 18 months after their wedding, and shortly after the birth of his daughter, Ellen Marjorie (Madge). Watson succumbed to "Coronary Asthma" and aged 53 and was buried in the Glasgow Necropolis

As sole partner at the time of his death, Watson entrusted the company to the hands of his Chief Draughtsman James Rennie Barnett, who went on to design the firm's largest and most famous luxury steam yachts for the social elite. Barnett also furthered Watson's lifeboat work successfully developing the world's first self-righting lifeboat.

Subsequently the firm passed through the hands of three further managing directors, before a brief hiatus in the early 1990s. The firm is now based in Liverpool and is engaged in the design, restoration and replica builds of large yachts. The company still holds the original design archive which was temporarily housed in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow.

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